Synopsis – The origin story of the Predator in the world of the Comanche Nation 300 years ago. Naru, a skilled female warrior, fights to protect her tribe against one of the first highly-evolved Predators to land on Earth.
My Take – Though the Predator franchise has been around for over 35 years, it doesn’t mean that it has shown any signs of consistency over the years.
Without a doubt, the 1987 John McTiernan directed science fiction horror action film is an undeniable cult classic that is still remembered for its bold style, endlessly quotable script and preposterous violence.
But while its immediate sequel, Predator 2 (1990), couldn’t repeat its success despite being occasionally fun, it wasn’t until the Nimród Antal directed Predators (2010) that the series found any kind of potency, especially following two trash cross-pollination Alien vs. Predator films. All to get finally derailed once again with the Shane Black directed unwatchable mess called The Predator (2018).
Honestly, the world wasn’t calling out for yet another Predator film but this Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) directed entry ends up finding mileage in a light-footed prequel led by Native Americans, resulting in a surprising welcome return for the franchise. In comparison, stylistically, tonally, and thematically, this one couldn’t be more different from previous entries in the series, yet the new film has also the closest effective wilderness ambience and suspense of the first film and that warrants praise.
Personally, I found this one to be easily the best Predator film we’ve had since the original. With a well-developed protagonist, a solid lead in Amber Midthunder, a rich cultural base and a clever use of an iconic film monster, this Patrick Aison written film is a solid genre fare in its own right that also brings the Predator series back on track.
Set in the year 1719 in The Great Northern Plains, the story follows Naru (Amber Midthunder), a young Comanche woman who while trained as a healer has aspirations of being a hunter like her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers). Continuously trying and failing to impress those around with her skills as a warrior, Naru often finds herself talked down to and belittled by the men who refuse to take her ambition seriously.
However, when she joins her brother’s group that is set on taking down a mountain lion, Naru finds signs of a dangerous new Predator (Dane DiLiegro), one who can’t simply be hunted as a bear or lion would. She is determined to find a way to prove herself and save her people.
As the title suggests, the film actively flips the narrative on its head. Instead of being the bloated, CGI-fueled slug-fest that we’ve come to expect of sequels, director Trachtenberg creates a lean, character-driven drama that is action-packed, but unafraid of silences, it’s woke, but without pandering to minorities. What helps this film excel is that it follows in the footsteps of the original without feeling like a retread.
By setting the film in the 17th century and placing the Predator in conflict with a Native American tribe and a female warrior, the film immediately creates a greater sense of tension. It works because its protagonist isn’t the kind of muscle-bound, all-guns-blazing action hero these films are known for, or part of a forgettable ensemble on some vague sci-fi quest.
Instead, Naru is keenly aware something isn’t quite right and that what is stalking the woods isn’t the same kind of beast they’re used to. This makes for an excellent shift as she becomes her own kind of hunter and her occasionally tense relationships with her brother and other fellow Comanche Nation tribes people give the film emotional resonance.
Naru also encounters villainous white settlers in the film’s third act, which suddenly roots the story in a recognizable reality after an hour or so of mostly fantastical world-building. And director Trachtenberg handles both elements of the story with a deftness of touch.
The Predator’s design is also really unique featuring a cruder version of the helmet that more resembles a skull than the one we’re used to and it works in context. Even the hi-tech armory is even more intimidating when matched with the tribe’s limited resources. Plus, despite being a prequel, there’s mercifully no attempt to delve into the mythology and origins of the Predator and no suggestion that the world is receiving a deeper expansion anytime soon.
All leading to a conclusion that while feeling a bit exaggerated, is nevertheless entertaining. And while many here might complain about a small, young woman being able to take on a hulking, technologically advanced alien, she never feels less capable of holding her own. It’s a bit of a shame that something with such impressively grand vistas and intricate, well-choreographed action won’t be seen at the cinema.
Performances wise, Amber Midthunder proves to be a worthy heroine. She carries the film almost entirely on her shoulders, and is skilled not only in the action sequences, but also in the many dramatic detours that the story takes. Midthunder sells her lack of self-confidence and her relationships with her protective brother, and her canine companion. Dakota Beavers also proves to be a solid performer and gets to perform some entertaining and very brutal sequences.
In smaller roles, Michelle Thrush, Stormee Kipp, Bennett Taylor and Julian Black Antelope are good, while Dane DiLiegro makes for an effective Predator. On the whole, ‘Prey’ is an outstanding and thrilling return to form for the Predator franchise with its unique take on the material and solid lead in Amber Midthunder.
Directed – Dan Trachtenberg
Rated – R
Run Time – 99 minutes